Sowing the seeds of change
The NSW agricultural sector is a thriving powerhouse for the state’s economy. Lucinda Corrigan is helping secure its future by leading the industry into a brave new era through her work with the CSIRO and Farmers for Climate Change.
“I say this to my young friends all the time: if you’re just an activist, all you do is get under people’s skin. What you want to do is give people a solution.”
And, that’s exactly what Lucinda Corrigan is doing in the agricultural sector. The Helen Newton Turner Medal winner is involved in providing solutions for the industry at every level – from education, through to science and climate change.
Lucinda was involved in the review of agricultural education, led by Professor Jim Pratley from Charles Sturt University, and subsequent improvements made in NSW. She is also the owner of Rennylea Angus - a cattle operation in the Murray-Darling region of NSW which she operates with her husband Bryan, daughter Ruth and son Anthony - which is the largest farm level user of genomics in the country. And, she has recently helped push climate adaptation as a national issue through her role as Chair of the Farmers for Climate Action.
“Farmers for Climate Action was the catalyst for the State Ministers responsible for agriculture, led by Niall Blair, NSW Minister for Primary Industries, to address climate adaptation nationally, through the Department of Agriculture. We did some key work behind-the-scenes in terms of working with ministers here and also in Victoria. These are small steps forward, but they’re signiﬁcant,” Lucinda says.
Having spent her life in the agricultural industry, Lucinda has the perfect vantage point to see how the industry is responding to the increasing demands placed upon it by climate change and myriad other factors that producers contend with.
“There’s a really progressive and innovative edge [in NSW]. Since the millennial drought, which we call the drought that existed between 2002 and 2010, there have been solutions around sustainable farming systems and around how we look after the livestock during those tough times,” says Lucinda, who is also Independent Chair of the Animal Welfare Science Centre.
A thriving economy
High consumer demand is also forging change across the livestock industry. A report from 2017* says that the estimated gross value production (GVP)** of ‘NSW livestock and livestock products’ was up 35 per cent over three years.
This upward swing not only shows how important the industry is to the NSW economy, but it’s also giving producers the opportunity to future-proof their operations.
“If I look through my district in southern NSW, I could take you to a couple of dozen businesses where people have used the money from this good period to create sustainable changes that are positive for both their business and the environment. It is very heartening. For example, one thing we’re seeing in NSW is an absolute revolution in cattle yard design. People are building new yards that guide the cattle more eﬃciently, so the handler doesn’t need to be so hands-on. There’s an animal welfare outcome and there’s a human safety outcome. These are really key pieces,” says Lucinda.
Rennylea Angus is leading the industry in terms of the application of genomics. It’s also a continuation of Lucinda’s work in the ﬁeld of genetics, which started in the cashmere industry and is now focused on maternal genetics.
The company has had its own research and development component since the 1990s and is currently collaborating with the CSIRO, Zoetis and Angus Australia to analyse the value of genomics at a herd level. The end goal is to help improve eﬃciency and produce consistently high-quality produce for the consumer.
“I’ve had two scientists from the CSIRO work for us. They came down and spent a night with us, and gave us a whole lot of reports. That is really a brand new era. It’s very exciting,” she says.
Lucinda’s collaboration with the CSIRO, Zoetis and Angus Australia is an example of the paradigm shift currently sweeping through the industry - it has moved from being government-funded to a more collaborative model that involves public and private partnerships.
“How important it is that we have a public base doing the blue sky research and then we have the whole corporate sector involved in the commercialisation, and the extension out to the growers,” she says.
This change from the old guard of the public sector to the relatively new space where public and private partnerships are taking hold in the agricultural sector is an important and large change in the industry, Lucinda says. And, one that could help drive forward great innovation throughout the State, as it brings together the economic and innovative powerhouse that is Regional NSW with the corporate sector in a truly collaborative sense.
Lucinda recognises conferences as an important factor in facilitating that innovation and collaboration throughout the industry. "Collaborations form, people start networking. You just keep cementing those relationships and that creates opportunity,” Lucinda says.
Lucinda worked closely with BESydney to secure the World Angus Forum 2021 for Australia.
“Nearly every major conference that I can think of in agribusiness has a component where delegates visit a processing plant or farm. There’s always more trade opportunities after these sorts of conferences.
“And, there will always be people who will take the opportunity to grow because they’ve learned something new, and they’ll change. You see that after these key events that things happen,” she says.
Lucinda’s forward-facing vision and championing of positive change is part of her family heritage. Her father was a “great conservationist”, so this mentality has always been an innate part of her.
“Would you believe he put a solar hot water system on our farmhouse in 1964? That was forward thinking. If you come from a family that was always asking questions, I think you continue that, don’t you?” she says.
*Department of Primary Industries, Performance, Data & Insights 2017
**AnnualGross Value Production (GVP) is measured as a unit volume of each commodity produced by the respective commodity unit price achieved at the “farm gate” or in the wholesale market.